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I am a New Zealand registered nurse and nutritionist (Grad Cert Sci: nutrition, Massey Univ). I am a Certified Zone Instructor, and have worked teaching Zone diet principles to hundreds of clients over the last 10 years. More recently after finding that eating Paleo food choices was the "icing on the cake" health wise, I have become a Paleo enthusiast and teacher. Follow me on twitter @juliannejtaylor

Red meat allergy caused by tick bites

Tick Bite

In 2009 I had a client who got physically sick, i.e. vomited and diarrhea whenever she ate red meat. This had not always been the case -she ate eat red meat without issue up until about 2 years previously. She could eat poultry or fish without a problem. She had recently switched to an almost vegetarian diet, however she also had mild IBS symptoms, and wanted to eat red meat again, and try a paleo diet.

I wondered what might have bought on this allergy, so googled “red meat allergy and came across an interesting article in the Australian News One tick red meat can do without” describing a growing number of people have an allergic reaction to red meat as a result of an earlier tick bite. My client had recently shifted from Australia so I asked her if she’d had tick bites and a reaction to them. YES! She lived in an area infested with ticks, and she’d been bitten a number of times and reacted. Her reaction to red meat was on the lower end of the scale – vomiting and diarrhea, however some people get hives and even full-blown anaphylaxis, when they develop this allergy. Anaphylaxis is an extreme immune system response that can cause breathing difficulties, sudden drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness heart failure and even death.

Mast Cells and the development of allergic reaction (Wikipedia)

There were at the time number of theories as to why a tick bite triggers an IgE immune reaction to red meat. Cross reactivity was suggested, where a person reacts to something in the tick bite – the saliva for example and then reacts to the same substance in another product or food. So every time the same substance is presented to the body – a person reacts to it as if to a foreign substance.

Researchers currently think that the tick bite causes production of an antibody to a carbohydrate called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal), present in the saliva of ticks which also happens to be present on red meat.

galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose

This explanation from Australian information on tick bite allergy:

Tick Bites and Red Meat Allergy

Australian allergic diseases physicians have recently described an association between tick bites and the development of red meat allergy (references 8, 10-12), which sparked interest from US researchers (reference 9). They have subsequently identified the part of the red meat allergen giving rise to the allergic reactions, galactose alpha-1,3-galactose. These allergic reactions to red meat typically occur in individuals who have had local allergic reactions to ticks. Within six months or so they develop anaphylaxis to red meat which almost invariably occurs several hours after the eating of the red meat. Rarely, these red meat allergic reactions, as with anaphylaxis in general, may be profound due to the co-existence of an increased number of mast cells (mastocytosis).

8. Pearce RL, Grove DI. Tick infestation in soldiers who were bivouacked in the Perth region. Med J Aust. 1987 Mar 2;146(5):238-40.
9. van Nunen S, O’Connor KS, Fernando RL, Clarke LR and Boyle RX. The Association Between Ixodes holocyclus Tick Bite Reactions and Red Meat Allergy. Internal Medicine Journal 2007; 39(Suppl 5): A132.
10. Commins S, Satinover S, Hosen J, Mozena J, Borish L, lewis B, Woodfolk J, Platts-Mills T. delayed anaphylaxis, angioedema or urticaria after consumption of red meat in patients with IgE antibodies specific for galactose- alpha-1,3-galactose. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2009; Vol 123, Issue 2, 426-433.
11. van Nunen SA, O’Connor KS, Clarke LR, Boyle RX and Fernando SL. An association between tick bite reactions and red meat allergy in humans. Med J Aust 2009; 190(9): 510-511.
12. van Nunen SA, Zaininger A, Clarke LR and Fernando SL. Systemic Mastocytosis and Severe Anaphylaxis provoked by an IgE-Mediated Reaction to a Food. 2009 XXVIII Congress EAACI abstract #1554b.
13. van Nunen S, Clarke L, Coyle L, Stevenson W and Fernando S. Severe Anaphylaxis Provoked by IgE-Mediated Reactions to Food (Red Meat) in Two Patients with Systemic Mastocytosis. Internal Medicine Journal 2009; (Suppl 5): A145.

At the time there was no test to confirm that this was the cause of my client’s red meat allergy. However it seemed the most likely explanation. She switched to red meat free paleo diet, and her IBS symptoms disappeared. After some time she tried a little red meat, and found she could tolerate it without symptoms. (Perhaps her previous inflamed, possibly leaky gut aggravated the situation by allowing these alpha-gal carbohydrates into the bloodstream where the body reacts to them?)

Can you test to find out if you react to galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose?

Yes – tests are now available. This recent article explains:

Tick Bites can cause delayed, IgE-based Allergic Reaction to Certain Meats

New Alpha-Gal IgE assay is the first to specifically detect antibodies associated with a delayed onset allergic reaction to beef, pork, and lamb, the development of which has been linked to tick bites

Kansas City, MO – September 13, 2010 — Viracor-IBT Laboratories announced the launch of the first commercially available assay to detect IgE antibodies against galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (Alpha- Gal). The Alpha-Gal IgE assay will assist clinicians in the identification of a recently discovered type of delayed, IgE-based, allergic reaction following the ingestion of certain meats.

Alpha-Gal is a carbohydrate (sugar) found in the meat of non-primate mammals, cow’s milk and dog and cat dander. Persons who are Alpha-Gal IgE positive have previously been sensitized to Alpha-Gal after being bitten by certain types of tick; cases have been concentrated predominantly in the Southeast United States and parts of Australia.

Other than the allergic reaction being delayed-onset, the symptoms of Alpha-Gal allergy are similar to those of other food allergies and can result in hives, swelling, intestinal irritation, and anaphylaxis—a life-threatening medical condition.

“Alpha-Gal presents a real paradigm shift in allergy thinking and testing. The traditional view is that people become sensitized to foods during childhood and subsequent exposure to that particular food results in an immediate allergic reaction,” said Dr. John F. Halsey, Scientific Advisor to Viracor-IBT Laboratories. “The delayed onset of the IgE-based allergic reaction to Alpha-Gal makes it more difficult to determine a linkage between the offending food and the allergic reaction. Standard food allergy tests are not sensitive enough to detect IgE against Alpha-Gal, which represents only a small fraction of the allergen preparation used in the standard assay. In the ViraCor-IBT Alpha-Gal IgE assay launched today, the allergen is pure Alpha-Gal, resulting in a greatly enhanced sensitivity.”

Although it has been difficult to estimate the prevalence of allergic sensitization to Alpha-Gal, recent studies by Thomas Platts-Mills, MD, PhD and Scott Commins, MD, PhD (who in conjunction first described the IgE-based delayed allergic reaction) have shown that Alpha-Gal allergies are more common that initially believed.

The team screened samples from 60 patients with suspected food allergies that could not be directly linked to a specific food source. Eighty percent (80%) of these patients had been recently bitten by a tick, with IgE antibodies to Alpha-Gal present in over 40% of samples.

“Viracor-IBT is pleased to add the galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (Alpha-Gal) IgE assay to our extensive allergy and immunology menu,” said Steve Kleiboeker, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of Viracor-IBT Laboratories. “Although tests that measure IgE levels to meats have been around for 30 years, this test is the first available commercial assay that is both highly specific and sensitive for IgE to the Alpha-Gal carbohydrate allergen present in certain meats. The Alpha-Gal IgE assay offers a new level of information that can provide physicians a more comprehensive picture of their patient’s condition and allergic risk profile.”

Patient results for the galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (Alpha-Gal) IgE assay are provided within two business days of receipt of sample by the laboratory.

Reference:
Viracor-IBT Laboratories Launches the First Assay to Identify a New Type of Delayed, IgE-based Allergic Reaction to Certain Meats, September 13, 2010, PRWEB
Literature:
  1. Chung CH, Mirakhur B, Chan E, et al. Cetuximab-induced anaphylaxis and IgE specific for galactose-±-1,3-galactose. New Engl J Med. 2008;358:1109-1117.
  2. Commins SP, Satinover SM, Hosen J, et al. Delayed anaphylaxis, angioedema, or urticaria after consumption of red meat in patients with IgE antibodies specific for galactose-±-1,3-galactose. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009;123(2):426-433.
  3. Commins SP and Platts-Mills TA. Anaphylaxis syndromes related to a new mammalian cross-reactive carbohydrate determinant. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009;124(4): 652-657.
  4. Van Nunen S A, O’Connor, KS, Clarke LR, Boyle RX, Fernando SI. An association between tick bite reactions and red meat allergy in humans. Med J Aust. 2009;190:510-511.

More easy to read articles on the topic:

Tick Bites can cause delayed, IgE-based Allergic Reaction to Certain Meats

Things learned as an intern: Tick bites can cause meat allergies

MEDICAL MYSTERIES: Man’s Sudden Food Allergy Was a Medical Mystery for Months

Allergic Living “Profile: Author John Grisham’s Allergy Mystery”

Clinical Study: The relevance of tick bites to the production of IgE antibodies to the mammalian oligosaccharide galactose-α-1,3-galactose

July 2012 -Recent Paper A Peculiar Cause of Anaphylaxis: No More steak?

Science Magazine, November 2012 Ticked Off About a Growing Allergy to Meat

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18 Responses to “Red meat allergy caused by tick bites”

  1. Victoria #

    That’s terrifying! I live in an area with high prevalence of ticks (deer and dog). My usual concerns are Lyme Disease and other infectious diseases, but an allergy to meat? Truly a terrifying prospect!

    November 8, 2011 at 8:59 pm Reply
    • It is – If I hadn’t met this client, I never would have imagined that it was possible to get a red meat allergy from tick bites.
      Luckily for us we don’t have these ticks in New Zealand

      November 8, 2011 at 9:46 pm Reply
      • MaryLee #

        Is there any connection between alpha gal and renal problems?

        April 3, 2014 at 9:51 am Reply
  2. T.Moore #

    Julianne,
    Well done! I have this too. It is awful and so scary! I get shots for cat allergies, I react badly to the shots. I do not have the typical eyes and nose trouble just hives. I am going to have my Dr. discontinue them because I feel it is Alpha-Gal related. I started a facebook page, Alpha-Gal to bring all of us together. You are more than welcome to come along and join us (small group so far).
    Keep up the good work!

    December 1, 2011 at 1:23 am Reply
    • Keith #

      I was diagnosed with alpha gal about 8-10 months ago. I’ve had 2 anaphylactic shock episodes. I carry an epi-pen, Benadryl, and prednisone. I would be very interested in your Facebook page. This article suggests milk, dog and cat dander. I had only heard of beef, pork, and lamb. I’m looking for alternate sources of protein – I love chicken and fish but how about rabbit, deer. I’m bumed about milk, there goes milk, cheese and ice cream. Is it all mammals, hoofed animals.

      March 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm Reply
  3. Willa #

    I am afraid I have this problem. I grew up eating red meat, but now I can eat it anymore. Tree hours after eating it, the allergic reaction starts. It has gotten worse over time because it took me a while before I realized that was the meat. I developed this after moving to the US.
    Do you know where I can get tested for this? Last time I mentioned this to my doctor, she wasn’t aware of that. I live in Florida.
    Thanks!

    December 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm Reply
  4. Rachel #

    I have this allergy too. It’s been 7 years or so. You can contact Dr. Scott Commins at UVA about getting a blood test done. Just have a sample drawn and have the lab send it to UVA. You need to be careful because as you drop mammalian meat from your diet you can become very sensitive to dairy as well (cuz it comes from a mammal. I get hives from cheese now). Always keep Benadryl or an Epi Pen with you. Children’s liquid Benadryl seems to be very effective for me in cases where I need immediate relief. Hope this helps…it’s a sucky thing to have. I’m going to check out the Facebook page for Alpha Gal.

    January 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm Reply
  5. Laurie Sevedge Beane #

    I also have this allergy and have developed a severe allergy to wheat, dairy and dog dander (I have to believe the last few are related). I have had great success after getting the blood test to confirm it from IBT allergies to working with KC allergy asthma and allergy. I’ve also sent notes to Dr. Commins.

    Has anyone had this while pregnant? I now have a 3 month old and am very curious if our little one will acquire my allergy. I’ll be very careful in introducing wheat, dariy and mammalian products into his diet – but looking for some case studies.

    March 14, 2012 at 9:20 pm Reply
    • Joy #

      I’ve been allergic to beef since 2004 when the gastroenterologist thought I was going to die and just told my husband to take me home and make me comfortable. He couldn’t explain my issues (test after test came back negative) – I had lost 76 pounds that year – my allergy was the same as the lady in the story. My husband and I happened to be watching an episode of House (go figure) and he mentioned a beef allergy. I hadn’t eaten in a week because everytime I ate anything I threw up and spent the evening sitting on the pot with a bucket in my lap. I have been completely beef product free since January 2005 – and I had a baby in 2006. She is not allergic to beef to answer your question. For years I have felt alone – as no one knew anything about my allergy and when I went back to see the Dr. and told him my suspicions, he said there was no such thing and this was all in my head! Everytime I eat something even on the same grill or plate I know it at least 5 hours later – I get so sick! Thank you for starting this forum – I no longer feel alone!!

      June 21, 2012 at 1:10 am Reply
      • Thanks for sharing your story. What a relief to have found the answer.

        June 21, 2012 at 8:01 am Reply
  6. Hugh Jones #

    I live in Northern NSW Australia and have aquired a red meat allergy since moving here. I have done as much of my own research as possible and believe it to be alpha-gal related, as I grew up eating meat regularly and since the first tick bite I have had red meat allergies. All I wish for is a lamb roast :(

    April 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm Reply
    • That sucks! I’d hate to be missing out on lamb. Let me know if you find a solution.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm Reply
  7. Jennieleigh #

    Yes I have this same reaction. If one gets a positive test what can be done?

    April 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm Reply
    • Sorry – I don’t really know!
      My client went on a paleo diet – which helps heal leaky gut – after that she was less reactive to red meat

      April 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm Reply
  8. Stan McNeil #

    I developed this allergy 30 years ago when about 20 years old. I grew up on a farm, eating home raised beef. I am from and still live in north east Georgia. I also had a bout with increased sensitivity to dairy products 3 years ago however that has since subsided. Is there any hope for desensitization to this allergy?

    May 6, 2012 at 2:26 am Reply
    • I really dont know – my suggestion would be to try a paleo diet which is low in gut irritating foods. If the gut is leaky – proteins go into the blood stream, and you react to them. If your gut is healthy they are less likely to do that.

      May 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm Reply

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